‘Heart of the Hunter’ is a compelling local thriller that homes in on politics, corruption and cover-ups

Bonko Khoza as Zuko in Heart of the ‘Hunter’.

Bonko Khoza as Zuko in Heart of the ‘Hunter’.

Published Apr 5, 2024


It’s been just over a week since “Heart of the Hunter” dropped on Netflix and it has already made history by becoming the first African film to secure the top spot in its global weekly Top 10 ranking.

The home-grown thriller clocked 11 million viewers after airing in 75 countries, which included the US, Nigeria, France, Germany, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Hong Kong and Kenya.

Of course, everyone attached to the project is over the moon, as they should be.

Having watched the movie recently, it is deserving of all the noise it's been making. Apart from the star-studded cast, the film is as engaging as international offerings à la “Extraction” and “Red Notice”.

Director Mandla Dube (real name Mandlakayise Walter Dube), who gave us the Safta award-winning “Silverton Siege” and “Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu”, proves his Midas touch once again.

“Heart of the Hunter”, based on the novel by award-winning South African author Deon Meyer, ticks all the boxes for an engaging story.

It explores the corrupt South African political landscape while touching on family, loyalty, culture and the future.

Zuko Khumalo (Bonko Khoza) is at the heart of this story. A retired espionage agent, who works as a mechanic, Zuko is content with his life. He is about to propose to his girlfriend Malime Mambi (Masasa Mbangeni) and is a positive father figure to her son, who dreams of becoming a farmer.

Sisanda Henna as Mtima and Connie Ferguson as Molebogeng in ‘Heart of the Hunter’.

But a visit from Johnny Klein (Peter Butler), whom he worked with previously, throws his life into chaos.

Johnny is being hunted by Molebogeng Kwena (Connie Ferguson), who is at the Presidential Intelligence Agency's (PIA) helm.

She does the bidding of Daza Mtima (Sisanda Henna), who is running for president. And he is desperate to destroy whatever damaging information Johnny has to ensure no one stands in the way of his plans.

As such, Molebogeng gets her entire team to prioritise the hunt for Johnny and, in so doing, latches onto Zuko as the new threat.

In the ensuing cat-and-mouse chase, Zuko is forced to use his training to stay one step ahead of the PIA while also saving the country from the clutches of a greedy Mtima, who is as corrupt as they come.

The movie is beautifully shot, with rustic hillside landscapes juxtaposed with the concrete jungle. From start to finish, Dube maintains a sense of mystery, leaving the viewer on tenterhooks.

Khoza is mesmerising as the lead. His intensity matches that of Will Smith in “Enemy of the State”.

In garnering critical acclaim for his performances in “The Wife” and “Red Ink”, he once again proves his mettle as a versatile actor.

He plays his skilled character with an unsettling calm. Torn between country and family, he juggles Zuko’s conflicts masterfully.

Tim Theron as Tiger in ‘Heart of the Hunter’.

Ferguson makes for a formidable villain. She plays her power-hungry character with a steely demeanour.

Although we don’t see much of Henna on the screen, he plays his unscrupulous character with plenty of menace in the few scenes he does have.

Nicole Fortuin, Milan Murray, Tim Theron and Deon Coetzee also deserve praise for how they executed their roles as Naledi Gumede, Beth Manning, Tiger de Klerk and Mike Bressler, respectively.

For action buffs, there are plenty of fight scenes and car chases in the movie. It is also offset by the tense drama from the high-tech tracking at PIA’s headquarters.

“Heart of the Hunter” walks that fine line between right and wrong. Each character carries some sort of emotional baggage and it elevates the storytelling.

Viewers will enjoy the slick home-grown offering with the ensemble cast bringing to light a story that isn’t far-fetched from what goes on in our everyday life.

With the 2024 elections around the corner, the timing of the release couldn’t be more apt.

∎ “Heart of the Hunter” is streaming on Showmax.